Supreme Court Upholds Restrictions On Requests For Expunging Criminal Records

Plaintiff Was Denied Request To Have Records Expunged After He Served 3 Years Probation

Above, the Wisconsin Supreme Court's chambers. Photo: Ann Althouse (CC-BY-NC).

The state Supreme Court rejected a challenge to a state law that restricts when someone can ask a judge to expunge a criminal record on Friday.

The ruling comes in a 2011 case, in which 20-year-old Andrew Matasek pleaded no contest to selling marijuana and an Ozaukee County judge sentenced him to three years probation. After Matasek finished his sentence, he made a request for the same judge to consider expunging his criminal record, which was denied. The judge said current law requires him to make that decision at the time of sentencing, not three years later.

Matasek’s attorney Jeffrey Guerard says other judges have interpreted the law differently and granted delayed expungement requests, but that Friday’s ruling means they can no longer do that.

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Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s ruling says an expungement decision at the time of sentencing gives offenders more incentive to obey the law and complete their sentence successfully knowing they’ll have a clean record if they do. Guerard says a delayed decision offers a similar incentive.

“I believe it is an incentive to do well on probation and complete everything and have a shot at it, instead of not having a shot at all, which kind of happened to my client in this case,” said Guerard.

The high court may soon take up another expungement case that challenges the right of a judge to renege on a promise to clear a defendants record if they don’t provide proof they have completed their sentence successfully.